While reading Weber, I have been considering privilege guilt primarily from the perspective of those who accept feelings of guilt for their privilege and noting how this experience differs from and is similar to the psychological state of the rising bourgeois Puritans of the seventeenth century. The Calvinists did not feel guilty for their undeserved privilege but responded to their purported blessing by actively maintaining and justifying their status with the greatest pride. That is to say, they did their best to earn it, even though they knew they never could, because it was an unearned privileged.
Perhaps the primary difference between the privileged middle class of the 1600s and that of the 2000s is that those today feel are for some reason not similarly compelled to justify the fortuitously received privilege. There are historical reasons that could easily account for the difference, including the fact that although the Calvinists believed this was real, from God, and crucially important to their lives, contemporary middle class whites in a relatively unstratified society don’t appreciate difference. That is, they believe that our society provides opportunities (though not perfectly equal) for everyone to live well, and they do not believe that economic success is an indication of being blessed by God. And while the sort of capitalism that was developing in the seventeenth century was novel and promising, our generation has seen the limitations as well as the benefits of business. Moreover, the ideology being pushed by the prophets of oppression and equality links goodness to the poor (and those who make a living by proclaiming the virtues of the poor).
I offer a view different than the Puritanical belief in chosenness and the Marxist belief that equality is good and difference is bad. In my view, privilege is neither good nor bad. Privilege is usually earned – often not by those who have it, but by those who came before. Equality is neither good nor bad, inherently. It’s an idea we made up and that has different meanings in different systems. As Nietzsche suggests, two groups have generally placed high value on equality: (1) the poor, the sad, the ugly, the untalented, etc., who do not want to be judged on individual worth, and (2) those who wish to use the poor to unseat the existing regime and take power for themselves.
As the second identified group suggests, privilege can also be considered from the perspective of those peddling the guilt. What do those who try to make whites, males, the middle-class, or whomever feel guilty for their privilege stand to gain from this?